As a living, breathing organism that faces the weather head-on, your lawn needs help to get through the seasons.
A good lawn gives an enormous return on investment: A healthy appearance means a fun place for get-togethers and games, a beautiful alternative to mud and a noble fighter against soil erosion. It’s worth putting in the effort to keep it healthy all four seasons of the year — a healthy lawn rewards those who put in the work.
Lawn health is a combination of preventative maintenance and understanding some basic principles. When applied, this knowledge allows you to tackle both obvious and less-obvious yard problems.
We’ll cover how to spot an unhealthy lawn as well as lawn-care tips for spring, summer, fall and winter. You’ll learn some lawn-care secrets used by professionals to achieve the best looking, most enviable lawns in the entire neighborhood.
How to Spot an Unhealthy Lawn
While it’s easy to note the lush, green sprawl of a healthy lawn, it can be trickier to spot the signs of an unhealthy one. Keep an eye out for the following lawn problems throughout all four seasons:
- Weeds: Even the healthiest of lawns have some weeds. They become a problem when a noticeable number begin to crop up. Weeds and grass are in a fight to the death over sunlight, water, soil nutrients and space. The most common cause of weeds is soil that is too acidic. If weeds seem to be springing up often on your lawn, have your soil’s pH tested.
- Thin spots: When bald spots begin to appear in your lawn, there is evident trouble. You should not be able to see dirt through your grass.
- Blue tints: Bluegrass doesn’t always come in the form of a banjo. If your grass is displaying a bluish color or tint, it’s trying to tell you it’s thirsty. Be on the lookout for a bluish-green shade, particularly in the dry months of summer. See our summer lawn-care section below for more on watering your lawn.
- Pests: While your lawn is an ecosystem featuring many symbiotic relationships with different insects, there are some who can endanger its health. Signs to look out for are brown sections of the lawn and parts of the grass that is noticeably shorter than others.
- Compacted soil: If you often walk or drive on your lawn, it can compact the soil and make it difficult for water and nutrients to filter through to reach grass’ roots. In this case, hiring a professional for lawn aeration will solve the problem.
- Disease: Lawn diseases manifest in both warm and cold weather. Some telltale signs of disease are shriveled blades of grass or patches that look like they’ve been torn apart, as well as bald spots on your lawn. A professional will be able to diagnose the specific disease, as different grass afflictions need different treatments.
- Dryness: Lawns need a lot of water — more water than you may think. Take a walk on your lawn and watch to see if your footprints vanish within 2-3 minutes. If not, your lawn is dehydrated. Additionally, you can take a screwdriver and try to push it into the soil. Moist soil makes this an easy task, so you can quickly tell if the soil is too dry if you have a hard time pushing the tool downward.
How to Protect Your Lawn During the Winter
There is a common misconception that grass is “dead” during the winter and therefore unreceptive to care.
Even though grass turns brown in the winter, it still needs your help to thrive come spring. Here are some of the best ways to keep your lawn healthy starting in the winter:
- Keep grass shorter: Taller grass is healthier than shorter grass at other times in the year, but in the wintertime, it can serve as a welcome invitation for burrowing creatures looking for a nest. They can tear the lawn to pieces by making tunnels and building their dens. Cut your grass shorter at the start of winter to avoid this problem.
- Clean up your yard: It’s easy to let fallen branches, leaves and twigs accumulate on your lawn during the winter. However, leaving debris sitting in your yard can cause large swaths of dead grass in the springtime. Debris affects water and nutrient penetration, leaving the soil below sodden and making it more vulnerable to mold and fungus. This is particularly troublesome when snow falls on top of the debris.
- Set up stakes to mark the edge of your driveway before the first snowfall: A plowed driveway is a necessity when snow falls. However, it is all-too-easy for plow trucks and snow shovels to misjudge the edge of a driveway and overplow onto the actual grass. This leads to gouges and scrapes on your lawn that will turn into dead spots in the spring. To avoid this, take some stakes, sticks or small flags and drive them into the ground on either side of your driveway. This will create a sufficient visual marker of where the driveway ends and grass begins.
- Maintain your equipment: Lawn-care equipment like lawnmowers, weed whackers, trimmers and more need some tender love and care during the offseason. First, remove grass clippings from your equipment — these trap moisture and can lead to rust. Next, rinse out the bottom of the mower using a diluted bleach solution. Then replace spark plugs, perform oil changes, sharpen blades, replace strings, replace old belts and apply lubrication to all moving joints and pivots.
- Stabilize your fuel: Gasoline is typically infused with ethanol, a mixture that does not have a long shelf life — particularly during the winter months, where its breakdown expedites. This can lead to overall equipment damage. To prevent this, add a fuel stabilizer to equipment that still has gas in the tank, whether it is four-cycle or two-stroke. This will ensure stable fuel come springtime.
- Reduce foot traffic on the lawn: In the winter, grass has a harder time handling foot traffic because it is not continually regenerating. Walking a familiar line over the lawn can create what’s commonly termed a “cow path” — pathways of dirt where little-to-no grass grows. In the springtime, these will require extra care to turn back into green grass. If you live in an area where others may track across your lawn, consider stringing a small rope around the perimeter to discourage it.
How to Rejuvenate Your Lawn in the Spring
Springtime is where many lawn owners make or break their chances of green turf for the upcoming summer. Using spring lawn care to its fullest potential is as simple as following these steps:
- Clean up any debris from the winter: Although you should keep up with debris throughout the winter, the end of the season often coincides with other types of spring cleaning. As a result, you may have let a few yard duties slide. Make sure to compensate by clearing your yard completely free of any debris. This allows every part of the lawn to have an equal chance at soaking up sunshine, rain and nutrients.
- Start with a soil test: Because healthy grass is a ground-up endeavor, it’s essential to start the season with a soil test to determine the pH of the soil. A healthy pH is in the neutral range, about 6.5 on grass’ pH scale, with specific amounts of potash and other nutrients. If your soil has a healthy pH, you are good to go. If not, inquire about how to get it ready for the season.
- Trim first, then mow: The first trimming and mowing jumpstart your yard’s growth. Start by trimming the edges of your lawn, then mowing to churn up the clippings. If your lawn is very dense, you may also need to dethatch it. Thatch is the brown or yellow grass that is always present and mixed in with the healthy, green grass blades. While a certain amount of thatch is normal and even healthy, too much can block or trap moisture and kill the desired green grass.
- Use lawn fertilizer: Fertilizers with a slow release allow nutrients to seep into the soil over time rather than all at once. When springtime has begun — which is February in southern parts of the country and May in the north — it is a good idea to give your lawn some fertilizer to snack on. Less is more here, so don’t add too much! This booster will lend vital nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous, iron and potassium to grass’ roots, and some even include a pre-emergent herbicide.
- Add protective chemicals in a predetermined order: Not only are lawn chemicals potentially hazardous to the surrounding environment, but they are also designed for use in specific procedures. Haphazardly slathering your lawn in chemicals can work against you. After starting with fertilizer infused with herbicide, do another round of fertilizer and couple it by spot-killing weeds that have infiltrated your lawn. This cycle should last about 1.5 months.
How to Protect Your Lawn During the Summer
Summer lawn care is fun work that allows you to reap loads of yard benefits. Here is how to keep grass from turning brown during the hottest months of the year:
- Water your lawn strategically: Lawns need a great deal of water — around 1 inch per week. You will need to be methodic about watering your lawn, particularly when sunlight, dry air and wind work together to dehydrate it. You should water the full expanse all at once, as performing shorter watering sessions causes roots to stunt and not penetrate as deeply into soil. This should be done every 5 to 6 days. Also be aware that water pressure may drop due to demand.
- Water in the morning: Watering your lawn in the early morning allows the water to soak into the ground and keep grass hydrated and cool once the sun comes up. Watering during the middle of the day will lead to excess evaporation while watering at night creates high moisture levels that can give rise to fungus and mold.
- Keep grass taller in the summer: The commonly accepted rule is summer grass height between two and 2.5 inches, or follow the guideline that your mower should not take off more than a third of the grass blade. If you mow grass too short, this allows sunlight to penetrate the canopy and give energy to competing organisms like weeds. It also scorches the dirt and leads to evaporation and compaction. Mow your lawn weekly to balance out summer grass growth rates.
- Watch out for insects: Insects are one of those summertime annoyances we must live with, and keeping an eye on how they affect your lawn is essential to taking care of it. Avoid using fertilizers with pesticides designed for a national spectrum of pests. Instead, look for fertilizers with herbicides catered explicitly to your region, as these are more likely to be effective. Alternatively, and perhaps more effectively, use a combination of organic fertilizer with low-nitrogen content and separate pest control that can be manually sprinkled.
How to Protect Your Lawn During the Fall
Autumn is a time of great peril to lawns nationwide, as dead thatch and leaves threaten to smother grass and block sunlight. Here is how to implement successful fall lawn care:
- Get rid of thatch: The dead grass that forms a mat on your lawn needs to be removed, as having too much of it can carpet the ground and prevent sunlight and moisture from reaching the soil. Use a rake or a power rake to remove this thatch, taking care not to be too aggressive. Overly ambitious removal with a single pass of the rake can tear out healthy grass.
- Remove leaves as they fall: Leaves tend to fall over the course of several weeks, so do not wait until they have all fallen to remove from your yard. Raking or blowing leaves is far more manageable when an entire season’s worth is not sitting in your yard at once. Let your lawn continue to breathe and grow by keeping it free of leaves, which lets it enter winter with healthier momentum.
- Seed your yard: Early autumn is the best time to seed your yard. What’s more, the best seed will come from your local lawn-care specialists and nurseries, who have a keen understanding of your region’s climate. Be sure to buy seed that is formulated to grow in your specific region. Though this seed may cost more than varieties purchased at national chain stores, it will save money in the long run by lessening the need for grass maintenance or revival.
- Fertilize the lawn now: Fertilizing your lawn in the autumn is one of the healthiest things you can do for it. This leads to more robust root growth that can better withstand the cruel tendencies of winter. It also allows the coming spring weather to aid in the release and absorption of fertilizer nutrients.
Come to Nature’s Helper for Year-Round Lawn Care
At Nature’s Helper, we see lawn care as both an art and a science. Our expert team is equipped with the supplies and experience needed to keep your lawn thriving year round.
Whether you need soil tests, fertilization, high-quality seeding, mowing, troubleshooting or pest control, we have the tools to help. Contact us for assistance with sprinklers/irrigation, lawn aeration and overseeding, fertilizer and more. Our phone number is (402) 334-2625, and we are standing by to help.